The next big challenge for the Christian community appears to be how to integrate the recent claims of the human genome project, which published its findings in 2004. This month’s issue of Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith (published by the American Scientific Affiliation) is devoted to this question, and three of its four essays conclude that we must dramatically revise the Christian faith in light of genetic research.
Specifically, the authors claim that the human genome project has demonstrated that humans not only evolved from lower life forms but that we came on the scene by the thousands rather than from an original, historical Adam. I will lay out their arguments in the near future (it’s a lot of science to digest), but first I want to observe what even the authors suggest is at stake.
Two of the contributors are Bible and Theology professors at Calvin College, Daniel Harlow and John Schneider, so I immediately wondered how their views mesh with their positions at this denominational school. Schneider concedes that his Christian Reformed Church “prohibits ‘espousal of theories that posit the reality of evolutionary forebears of human beings’ as ‘ruled out by Scripture and the Reformed confessions,’ yet oddly does not intend this prohibition to ‘limit further investigation and discussion on this topic’” (209). Schneider wisely suggests that his proposals are merely “exploratory,” which may protect him by placing his views in the “further investigation” category (197).
Harlow clearly does not believe in a historical Adam or a historical Fall (Schneider doesn’t seem to either, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that his entire essay is merely a trial balloon). Both agree that the Apostle Paul believed in an actual Adam and a real Fall, but he did not have the benefit of the human genome project. Harlow explains that “Paul, like Luke, no doubt regarded Adam as a historical person… Paul had little reason not to regard Adam as a historical figure, whereas today we have many reasons for recognizing him as a strictly literary one” (190).
Schneider acknowledges that skepticism about a historical Adam means giving up the inerrancy of Scripture, for “it seems unlikely that Paul (or Luke) in the New Testament understood biblical Adam in this symbolic way” (200).
I appreciate the tension between our readings of science and Scripture, and I affirm that we must use the findings of one to interpret the other. But why do I feel like Scripture is being asked to do all of the accommodating? If you think that the discoveries of science are contradicting the clear teaching of Scripture, you might consider pushing back on the claims of science.
Besides biblical inerrancy, there are obviously huge theological problems with denying an original Adam and a historical Fall. I plan on discussing these in the near future, but after spending most of my day reading these essays, I had to say at least this for now.
The next few months and years may be a bumpy ride. When professors at Christian colleges are willing to throw Paul and the inerrancy of Scripture under the bus of the human genome project, you know that the debate is about to become ugly and very, very important.